Getting a Jump Start: Projects to Reduce Flooding in Midland

Op-ed by J.W. Fisher and Lee Ann Keller, Co-chairs of the MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure

The Midland Business Alliance (MBA) Advisory Committee on Infrastructure has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the County of Midland on a large hydraulic/hydrologic study of the Tittabawassee River Watershed. Last fall and winter, the Spicer Group surveyed approximately 60 miles of rivers in Midland County and then processed and provided this extensive data to the USACE in the spring. The USACE is currently creating flood models that will be critical for predicting the effects of rainfall. We regularly meet with USACE and Spicer engineers for progress updates, and they have been great resources for our questions and planning. It is the largest hydraulic/hydrologic study conducted by the USACE Detroit office, and it takes time to create these vital models. The study is on schedule to be completed in 2024.

While this study is progressing, we have many “balls in the air” at the state and federal levels. Since our committee’s inception in 2021, we have submitted funding requests for multiple resiliency projects. A few examples include funds for: moving the MyMichigan Health boiler plant and electrical infrastructure to “higher ground” to eliminate a recurrence of the hospital’s mechanical problems during the 2020 flood; added wetlands with the Little Forks Conservancy and Northwood University; a Midland County flood plain reconnection and enhancement project; and the City of Midland Sylvan Pump Station detention basin project. In March 2022, the U.S. House and Senate approved $1.65 million for our Community Project Funding requests, and we currently have more requests pending with the federal and state legislatures.

All of these funding requests and projects will build resiliency in our area, but we wanted to do even more while we waited for the Corps to complete the study. Even though 2024 isn’t far away, it seems that way when you are worried about the next flood. We decided to get a jump start on future flood reduction efforts.

We asked Spicer Group engineers to look at areas that frequently experience flooding and offer ideas. They focused on Sturgeon Creek, Snake Creek and the Inman Drain areas in Midland. These are key areas of frequent flooding. When the Tittabawassee River reaches high levels, it starts to push up into these creeks and cause extensive flooding.

We have posted a description of the “Midland Flood Reduction Plan” and maps on www.mbami.org/floodstudy. This is certainly not “the one solution” for the Midland area and our region. But we do believe it is one project with a big impact.

The project includes a system of flood protection walls, berms, flood gates and pump stations. When Tittabawassee floodwaters reach a certain level, flood gates on the Sturgeon and Snake Creeks would close to prevent these waters from backing up into the creeks. Pump stations on both creeks would pump outgoing stream flows while the flood gates are closed. Several areas of Main Street would need to have elevations increased to create a barrier for floodwaters.

The floodwalls/berms are set to 0.3 feet below the 100-year flood elevation, which is similar to the 2017 flood event. That level would protect against the majority of recent flood events – without reducing the current 100-year floodplain storage volume. When you impact the 100-year floodplain, you are required to offset this with the creation of additional floodplains. In the longer term, we do envision the development and enhancement of wetlands in the region; but this would be addressed in a second-phase study from USACE, which is currently waiting for Congressional authorization in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). We are hopeful that this WRDA bill will be passed before the end of the year.

With our plan for flood gates and pump stations, an estimated 600 residential and 50 commercial properties – including the hospital area – would be protected from floodwater levels similar to 2017. We believe this is a feasible project that can make a big, positive impact. We have presented the plan to the Midland County Board of Commissioners and the Midland City Council. We received their support, along with letters of support from many businesses and organizations – all valuable as we talk to our legislators. We are currently working with USACE and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to keep them informed.

We are seeking funding from multiple sources at the state and federal levels for this estimated $117 million project. While we would need the modeling from the USACE to set the final design specifications, we want to be in the best position to move ahead when all of the “balls in the air” are finally aligned. Because USACE knows that we are interested in this project, they have set a priority to work on the modeling in this affected area – to expedite the data we will need.

In addition to our federal, state and local legislators, we are also communicating with organizations, residents and other stakeholders. If your group would like to learn more, our volunteer committee members would be happy to schedule a presentation and Q&A session with you. You can contact us at mba@MBAmi.org.

Lee Ann Keller is owner and CEO of Omni Tech, a global technical and business consulting company in Midland that specializes in strategic planning, biobased product commercialization, and DEI strategies/training. She and her company have been actively involved in the Midland community for more than 30 years. Lee and her family reside on Sanford Lake.

J.W. Fisher is the president of Fisher Contracting Company, a heavy/highway civil contractor with locations in Michigan and Kentucky and part of Fisher Companies. Since 1925, four generations of the Fisher family have provided civil construction services to federal, state, municipal and private clients throughout the Midwest and Southeast. He and his family reside in Midland.

More information about the MBA Advisory Committee on Infrastructure can be found at www.MBAmi.org/floodstudy.

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